My definitions of a weblog
Last Friday Stephanie emailed a simple question, asking for my own definition of what a weblog is. I was too busy then, finishing things before a weekend offline (end-of-the-season windy North Sea coast, if you are curious ;), so I had to leave it till now. Of course, the purity of the experiment has been already spoiled since I have read about the first results, but I'll give it a try.
So, what is my definition of a weblog? I couldn't answer it easily because "it depends" - I could identify at least three clarifying questions that would probably result in different definitions (as I write this I don't know yet ;).
What is my weblog for me?
On my About page I say that it's my learning diary and it's "a reverse-order posting of insights, commentaries, links and a few longer stories". It's definitely more than that:
- it's an edge between personal and social, between implicit and explicit, between themes, topics and people that otherwise would exist in parallel universes
- it's an incubator - where ideas and relationships grow
- it's my personal space online - pretty much like my home - where it's up to me to choose style and focus (or no style and focus); as with my home, I'm aware of others - they could peak through the windows or share a food and a conversation - so their (possible) presence definitely shapes what and how I write, but I still feel pretty much "owning" the place to cater for the guests only when I feel like doing it
- it's a place for serendipitious conversations with myself and others - not expected, planned or counted on, but ever present as an opportunity
How do I know that it's a weblog when I see one?
First I react to the format (something I would probably recognise even if it's written in Chineese) - dated entries, reverse-chronological order, often a calendar and a way to peak into the archives (= bits of micropieces unfolding in time). However, this is not enought: one can well use a weblog software to update news pages of a website.
Second reaction is to the content and style: it should have some kind of "personal touch" to qualify as a weblog. Most likely it's writing from a first position (I, not academic we), personal stories, opinions - something subjective that shows the personality behind the text (as the opposite "trying to stay objective" of academic or journalistic writing). To be percieved as a weblog it needs some degree of "this is how I see the world" perspective in it.
Third thing is more complicated - I'd call it "a possibility for an interaction". To be a weblog it has to be not private, not "intended for myself only" - those I would percieve as personal diaries or private communication that in a strange way ended up in public. It also has to avoid another extreme - being written for an audience in a way that expects interaction and doens't make any sense without it (those give me suspicious feeling of "something else pretending to be a weblog"). For me a weblog needs some degree of ambiguity ("not entirely for myself, not entirely for my readers") - something that gives an excuse to the author to actually write in public and to a reader to read it and an opportunity for both of them to interact without feeling an obligation to do so.
How do I define weblogs for my research?
This is totally different discussion, since my personal definitions above are a bit fuzzy to serve as a good criteria for deciding if something published online with a weblog software is actually a weblog. In my publications so far I usually refer to Jill's definition as a starting point and a self-definition ("if an author considers it a blog") in a process of data-collection. Since I'm into heavily qualitative sub-culture specific studies this works, but I definitely would be very cautious in using it with respects to "blogs in general".
I'm not happy with that: I'm pretty much sure that implicitly my research is shaped by my personal definition of what a weblog is, but I don't have (so far) a good way to articulate the criteria that would turn it into a some kind of "objective" researcher-independent definition.
And, Stephanie, a word of caution - "blogging" as an activity might be defined quite different from "writing a weblog" (for me it would be something like "doing things around my weblog" that would involve, for example, talking about my weblog with blogger friends when we meet).